Iran's imperfect trap for Obama
Iran's Navy Commander Adm. Habibollah Sayari speaks to the press last week about Iran's 10-day military exercise.
December 30th, 2011
09:20 AM ET

Iran's imperfect trap for Obama

Editor's Note: Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian – Israeli Middle East analyst and the co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and The State of IranThe following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region.

By Meir JavedanfarThe Diplomat

The publication of an analysis last week by Tehran-based ASR Iran made for interesting reading. Entitled “Iran’s blows against the White House; will Obama have the same fate as Carter?” the writer concluded that:

“What has happened in recent months, and will probably continue, brings up memories of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and its impact on the defeat of the Democrats and Jimmy Carter’s personal failure.  Perhaps finally, as a result of the blows received from the Iran front, Obama will become one of the few single term U.S. presidents – unless in the few remaining months he carries out serious reforms in bilateral relations and comes down from his ivory tower and returns to the negotiating table with Iran as an equal.”

The line about Iran’s recent “blows” against the United States is no doubt referring to the U.S. drone currently in Iranian hands, thecapture of a supposed U.S. spy and Iran’s continuing ability to continue with its nuclear program, including claims that Tehran is transferring sensitive nuclear activities to fortified underground sites.

A Cold and Clever U.S. Base Move

Although ASR Iran isn’t believed to be a mouthpiece of the regime, its observations are often an accurate reflection of the opinions of the Iranian leadership and its supporters, many of whom now believe that Iran has not only not “lost” to Barack Obama, but that the regime might actually be coming out on top.

Tuesday’s threat by Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi that Iran would close the Strait of Hormuz “if the West imposes sanctions on Iran's oil shipments” was not only a warning aimed at the West generally, but also bears the hallmarks of an Iranian political trap for Obama as he heads into an election year.

It’s no secret that the U.S. economy is Obama’s Achilles’ heel. Iran knows that by closing the Strait of Hormuz, oil prices could rise significantly, doing further damage to an already faltering U.S. economy. With the U.S. presidential election less than a year away, this could be the kiss of death for Obama’s reelection chances. A sudden rise in oil prices could do to Obama’s reelection bid what Ayatollah Ali Khomeini’s 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy did to Carter’s reelection ambitions, namely wreck them.

And if at any point after sanctions were imposed Obama tried to limit the damage of  high energy prices by then waiving sanctions (something the new legislation allows him to) then he’d be stepping into another trap, one of looking “weak” on Iran. Any Republican opponent would revel in the opportunity to present Obama as both the man who wrecked the economy, and then the leader who “chickened out” against Iran’s rulers.

Obama therefore has no choice now but to push ahead – the U.S. Congress has ripped out its reverse gear. But in doing so, he may be damned if he moves forward, and damned if he doesn’t.

So, are Iran’s leaders right to congratulate themselves for upping the ante by issuing the challenge over Hormuz? Certainly, if Obama doesn’t want to see his already uncertain electoral chances sink in the Persian Gulf then he will need to tread carefully.

Law Not War in the South China Sea

However, Iran’s leaders need to be careful, too. By blockading the Strait of Hormuz, Iran would in essence be declaring war against Persian Gulf states and members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, many of whom use the strait to export oil and liquefied natural gas.

Not only would such a move place these countries squarely in the U.S. camp, but it could also backfire by making Iran look weak if it didn’t follow through. It’s no secret that Iran needs the strait to export its own oil, and it’s hard not to see Iran backing down under pressure of its neighbors to lift a blockade to help its own economy. In doing so, it would look weak in its neighbors’ eyes.

Blocking the strait would also likely push these same neighbors to consider a pipeline into the Arabian Sea, bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, a move that in the long run would undermine the strait’s strategic value to Iran.

And even if Iran did try to create a blockade, what if other countries in the region tried to send a civilian vessel through the strait? Would Iran really try to sink a Qatari ship or a Bahraini tanker? Such a move would give ally the United States justification to enter the fray, and the powerful U.S. fifth fleet would not only have superior firepower, but also legal justification to flex its muscles.

South China Sea Conflict? No Way

In his article “Iranians, The pioneers of navigation in the Persian Gulf,” Iranian historian Hossein Nourbakhsh says: “According to the writings of the ancient Greeks, including Herodotus, and to the allusions made in the Aristotle’s book on politics, ancient Iranians were the first great navigators of the world.”

But having laid a political mine for Obama, Iran’s leaders will need all their navigational skills to avoid falling into their own trap.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Meir Javedanfar. For more, visit The Diplomat.

Post by:
Topics: 2012 Election • Foreign Policy • Iran • Military • President Obama

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Hahahahahahaha

    "..........And then we will poke them with sticks like the one I'm holding right here". Hahahahahahahahaha .

    December 30, 2011 at 9:38 am | Reply
  2. Lennybaby

    Whether this report from Iran's news agency ASR is true or not, which seems to be to good to be so, Barack Obama doesn't deserve to be reelected in either case!!! This man has been a horrific letdown from the word go!!!!!!!!

    December 30, 2011 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • Ted Striker

      Even if you think that way, who is a better replacement? The GOP are a bunch of air heads. Ron Paul is a loon and nobody in the religious right is going to support a Mormon.

      January 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  3. What if..

    What if other persian gulf states and member of the Persian gulf Cooperation Council get together and oppose all these sanctions which is the root cause of this problem? And with the help of Chinese and russians they may hamper America's economy. We should be extra careful while dealing with Iranians.

    December 30, 2011 at 11:39 am | Reply
    • kenema

      Saudi Arabia already said they'd produce 2 million more barrels a day. They don't like each other, either.

      December 31, 2011 at 12:32 am | Reply
      • Voice of Reason

        Yeah, Saudi Arabia has agreed to pick up the oil tab if we decide to blockade the Iran coast, on top of Obama's plan to reintegrate Libya's oil production and increase Iraq production. If both of these are implemented in a half-assed manner, it really blows this whole article out of the water.

        January 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • glennrobert

      Iran and Saudi Arabia, no love lost. A major portion of the oil coming out of the Persian Gulf comes from one enormous refinery on the coast in Saudi Arabia. It would make a fine sitting target and Iran would not have to sink a ship! Or, they could start shooting down satellites, low level and geocentric, messing up world trade. That would make us popular!

      January 17, 2012 at 3:23 am | Reply
      • Mark

        I do not think Iran has the capability to hit a satellite at this time.
        Why we have not advocated the building of a pipeline to neuter the need for the strait of hormuz since 1979 is a bit baffling in one respect but then again we have not had a coherent energy policy in 30 years either- no new refinery's or handful of nuke/ natural gas power plants either. It sure seems it would have made more sense to unhook from middle east oil over the last 3 decades and we would have been in a better economic position to integrate other replacement energy sources as technology evolved.
        Which begs the question of what exactly does the Department of Energy actually accomplish with really do with the mega funding it drains from the taxpayers? Not much I can see.

        January 28, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Indeed the sabre Iran is rattling is a double-edged sword. The Iranian theocrats disppointed me. They thought they would ruin Obama's chances for his reelection if the oil prices surged due to the blockade of the Strait of Hormuz. They seemed to have ignored the implications of the Machiavellian game they're playing. China wouldn't be amused and India too. This charade could spark a concerted action within the GCC and the region against Iran.

    December 30, 2011 at 11:52 am | Reply
  5. Jahan

    As the author has mentioned, the Asr-e-Iran site is not known to be reflecting the positions of the Iranian government, nor it is a think-tank-like circle. It is affiliated with the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and has a rather semi-liberal stance and, for example, has criticized the British embassy incident. So one has to be careful not to draw the wrong conclusion from a simple point-of-view article. I guess Mr.Javedanfar knows these facts better than me.

    December 30, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  6. John Hollis

    Here is what is said about Mr Javedanfar at:
    "But I was alarmed to see TB publish MEIR JAVEDANFAR, a known Iranian Zionist who over the years has tried hard to establish Iran's so-called "nuclear program" which in many analysts' estimation lends itself to proponents of economic sanctions and possible military strike against Iran."
    Now, I wonder how much redit we can ever give to artcles written by this man!
    By the way, iran is well known by for her abandace of natural resources and high level of inteligence in making huge scientific discoveries but unfortunately, Iran has also it's fair share of traitors who sell their mother for a smile from American or Israeli secret agents!

    December 30, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • sherlookhomes

      You know thats exactly what stalin called whom ever disagreed with him, and kim jung ill, and the mullah and so on "Traitor, spy" and so on, its so typical of the dictator to brand his critics a traitor or an enemy of the state , but my question is why don't you people open a history book and see how original your propaganda is before you spit it out, a regime that gives a death senctence to an old man for throwing a shoe at ahmadinejad, does not have the right to ask for devotion from its people

      December 31, 2011 at 10:30 am | Reply
  7. Workhard03

    I don't know about everyone else but how Obama deals with Iran going forward would never change my opinion that domestically Obama has been a huge failure. Creating hate at home, increasing our debt at a mind boggling rate, and doing nothing to help create "private" sector Non Union Jobs. He needs to go.

    December 30, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Reply
    • Adam smith

      Hate ??? Calling the president a tar baby, Birther Movement, Calling him a Muslim the hate is actually a propganda of the Right wing Racists in GOP... And you've just fallen for that Hate.... Fighting for the Middle Class is not hate

      December 30, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
      • kenema

        hahahaha. You are the very same people who called Bush everything but a man. So why all the negative vibe when the shoe is on the other foot? The facts speak for themselves. 18% under or unemployed, he quadrupled spending while in his campaign he said he would cut the debt in half. Political paybacks, taxpayer loans to political bundlers, sending thousands of guns across the Mexican border, bailing out private companies, ect. I'm no Bush fan, but anyone would do a better job than this guy (who we STILL know nothing about). What were his grades, what was in his law review. I'm tired of hearing how smart this man is because I don't see it.

        December 31, 2011 at 12:41 am |
      • Jackoo7

        A 4M vacation is not on the adgenda of a president "fighting for the middle class" in this or any econony. BAM is fulla BS

        January 2, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Quinterius

      Forget about domestic policy. Obama has been far worse than Bush on foreign policy. He lied about negotiating with Iran and has demonized Iran based on complete lies. He wants to look tough to improve his chances for re-election.

      December 30, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Reply
      • Ted Striker

        That's a joke right? He killed Osama Bin Laden, and Bush couldn't do it in 8 years. He's withdrawing the US from both Iraq and Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton has been one of the best Secretary of States ever.

        January 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  8. Sid Harth

    Chess, may not have been invented by Persia, Oops, Iran but Persian might have imported it, (the game) from India. A good chess player, there are many to be listed, (the game). However the principle, if applied liberally to the current stand off between America and Iran, over a concocted story about Iran's civil nuclear research ambitious plan, being portrayed by Pentagon/CIA and the White House propaganda mill, I think, Iran has couple of excellent moves ahead.

    Separately, in Iran Times news article, Iran is offering an unusual, for a chess player, an olive branch:

    TEHRAN – Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has said that Iran is ready to resume negotiations with the 5+1 group (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany).

    Salehi made the remarks during a meeting with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun in Tehran on Thursday.

    The Iranian foreign minister discussed Russia’s proposal for a “step-by-step” plan toward Iran’s nuclear program with the Chinese official.

    On July 13, Russia made a proposal for a step-by-step approach, according to which Iran could address questions about its nuclear program and be rewarded with a gradual easing of sanctions.

    The Chinese vice foreign minister emphasized that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear issue should be resolved through negotiations, adding that Beijing is opposed to the adoption of new sanctions on Tehran.

    Salehi and Zhai also exchanged views on bilateral issues and expressed hope that the level of relations would be increased.

    Zhai stated that his country is keen to increase relations with the Islamic Republic and called for more negotiations to be held between the two countries’ officials.

    On the issue of Afghanistan, Salehi said that security operations should be transferred to the Afghan government and foreign forces should leave the country as soon as possible.

    The foreign minister also stated that Iran will continue participating in the reconstruction process in the war-torn Afghanistan and will continue its cooperation to help promote peace and security there.

    The Chinese official also said foreign troops should disengage from the country and the Afghan people should be given the right to self-determination.

    ...and I am Sid

    December 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  9. Luke

    If this ASR report is accurate the Iranians are surely overplaying they're game. Such an action of blocking the strait of Hormuz would be nothing less than suicide for Iran's international image, which already is crumbling. Its more likely the Iranians are acting out of their own self interest that is, gaining the legitimacy and favor of their citizens whom are suffering under a faltering economy and raising oil prices to bring in more revenue.

    Its absurd for me to believe, that the Iranians would seek to sabotage the Obama administration in favor of a right wing Republican hawk. If anything the Islamic Republic enjoys Obama in the white house.

    December 31, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Reply


    Iran is an evil empire since 7000 years. and they always sty evil it is in their blood since the 300 spartan Greek kicked their ars off.

    December 31, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Reply

    وزارة الدفاع الكويتية تستنفر قواتها إثر معلومات حصلت عليها عن مخطط لمجموعات عراقية بالتسلل الى ميناء مبارك الكبير
    دبي-الشرقية 31 ديسمبر:استنفرت وزارة ُ الدفاع الكويتية قواتِها في إثر معلوماتٍ استخبارية حصلت عليها عن مخططٍ لمجموعاتٍ عراقية بالتسلل ِ الى ميناءِ مبارك الكبير والقيام ِ بعملياتِ تفجير.ونقلت صحيفة ُ الوطن الكويتية عن مصادرَ قالت انها رسمية ان الادارة َ العامة َ للدفاع المدني طلبت من ادارةِ الاطفاء اتخاذ َ الاستعداداتِ كافة في اثر ِ حصولِها على اشارةٍ من اجهزةٍ امنية انها تلقت معلوماتٍ عن تخطيطِ مجموعاتٍ عراقية للتسلل ِ الى المشروع بقصدِ القيام بعملياتٍ اِن لم يَكن قصفــُه بمقذوفاتٍ من اراض ٍ عراقية . واضافت المصادر ان الاجهزة َ الاستخبارية الكويتية رَبطت المعلوماتِ بشان ِ مشروع ِ ميناءِ مبارك الكبير بالتهديدِ الذي سبق واطلقته جماعة ُ حزبِ الله العراقي قبل اشهر ٍ باطلاق ِ صواريخ َ على موقع المشروع.

    December 31, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  12. madu o.

    The leader of the free world today is China because its the only major country not controlled by the jewish lobby. The U.S.A. is long lost to this group and there is no easyway out.

    January 1, 2012 at 4:44 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      True enough, madu o. But don't forget that a lot of right-wing fanatics in this country are only too powerful, too!

      January 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
      • KAM

        I am also agreed with madu o. China is the only country who can lead this world to a peaceful world. Now America should step back for the sack of entire humanity from world's affair.

        January 2, 2012 at 5:28 am |
    • EJ Royal

      China is the leader of the "free" world? That is truly humorous! How does a nation which is not free, end up leading the free world It is a ludicrous notion.

      As for America taking a step back from being so involved in world affairs, that is a different matter. America ought to remove itself from financing other nations via foreign aid and recall its military forces from all land bases, leaving only skeleton crews for maintenance tasks. We have too many problems that need solutions here at home to afford squandering finances all over the globe. Besides, most of those who get our money do not even like us or agree with our form of government.

      January 9, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply


    January 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Reply
    • George Patton

      Quite wrong! It's the right-wing thugs in Washington that need to be stopped and how!!! It appears that to them, Iraq and Libya are not enough. Now they want Iran, too!!!

      January 2, 2012 at 12:55 am | Reply
  14. Cult of Personality

    Countries must do what is necessary to survive. A government's sole responsiblity in existence is to serve and protect its people. There is not a single government or nation in the world that does not serve its own interests. If you have power, if you have money, if you are responsible for others you are in some way shape or form corrupt. It is a natural order of politics almost necessary actually.

    It does not matter here who is more right or more wrong, what matters here is who is more likely to destroy lives and endanger their own people.

    My vote is on Iran. It is far more likely and possible for change to come about in the US, in fact that chance for change happens every 4 years, it's amazing it's like clockwork really. Can't say the same for Iran. The GCC are staunchly opposed to Iran, something about all the Sunni states in the Persian gulf rallying against Shi'a Iran because of Iran's foreign policy which is "To export the Islamic Revolution to all Persian States". Essentially this is Iran saying "Yeah we don't care how you do business, you're going to do it our way and for us from now on."

    How would you guys like it if someone from around the block came into your house one night and started telling you what color your walls should be, what to eat for dinner, what time you have to be home, so on and so forth. Doesn't make sense does it?

    We need to remember that all of man is flawed and that's exactly who leads these countries, men (sometimes women, but they're just as flawed).

    Let me conclude with this, it wasn't rational men who prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis from turning into all out Nuclear War, any rational man would have started that war, in fact it almost happened. It was irrational thinking that prevented that violence.

    January 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  15. Muin

    Iran is full of bluff and empty rhetoric now as opposed to western nations. Western nations did put crippling sanctions. So, no bluff here.

    January 3, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  16. tiredofthis

    How fitting, Modern Man first came from that area. I guess it would be fitting they be responsible for the destruction of Man and the rest of the world ... after all, they can't even stop fighting amongst themselves.

    January 9, 2012 at 7:26 am | Reply
  17. S. Sure Brec

    So Iran's plan is to make Obama lose and have a Republican win because Republicans are less tough on foreign policy than Democrats? Something is wrong with this logic.

    January 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  18. Sock-Ra-Tease

    The real issue is the Republican's imperfect trap for Obama and the delusions that support their idiotic 1% based belief system AND the consequences of making class warfare on the middle class for the last 30 years.
    Excrement eventuates, but 30 years of inequality of opportunity (through deliberate government welfare to corporations and the super rich) and lying to the American people about anything financial cannot be concealed in a "quiet room".

    January 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.